- Violence - Canon-Level
- Canon Divergence
- Science Fiction
28 May 2009
“So, here’s the thing.”
Tony looked up to see the newest four star Air Force general slide into the booth across from him and push a drink over.
“None of us ever thought you would leave Gibbs and NCIS. Given the current rumor mill and the resume I found on the special servers, I would say you’re looking for a job.”
“You would be right, General O’Neill,” Tony muttered. He’d hit submit on that resume less than an hour before. Someone had to have flagged his records for the man to have arrived so quickly.
O’Neill rubbed his hands together in pleasure. “I really like being right.”
“So do I,” Tony allowed. “When the outcome is positive at least.”
“Well, who likes negative outcomes? Unless they’re against people I dislike. And then I just enjoy watching them squirm,” O’Neill admitted.
“I’m not too sure you should be admitting to that level of schadenfreude, General,” Tony admonished. “What can I do for you?”
“More like what I can do for you.” O’Neill took a sip of his drink. “They always have the best whisky here. Anyway, I’m reasonably certain you’re aware of how hot a commodity you are to the alphabet soup.”
“I used to be,” Tony confirmed. “But I haven’t gotten offers in several years.”
“That would be because Gibbs got his dick in a knot and let everyone know you were his and they weren’t to express interest in you anymore,” O’Neill explained. “I’m not a fan of that plan, and Gunny’s gone off the reservation a bit too far this time. So. You put your resume out for everyone to read, and here I am!”
“And here you are,” Tony repeated. “Okay, I’m going to ignore what Gibbs did for the moment and ask what you think I can do for you?”
“How much do you know about what we do?” O’Neill asked instead. He was looking very comfortable sitting across from him sipping whisky that was more than $200 an ounce.
“Enough to know that while I was with NCIS I didn’t want to get sucked down that rabbit hole,” Tony said. He thought of what he knew about O’Neill’s posting and sighed. “It’s deep, it’s dark, and there are a lot of Marines who enter it and only leave when they die. That tells me that whatever you are involved with is so secret that I should shoot myself for even contemplating it.”
“You aren’t wrong,” O’Neill admitted. “But we have a need for people like you, so I’m putting our hat in the ring now.”
Tony shifted slightly as he adjusted his broken arm. His hatred of pain medications meant he was without relief. On the other hand, it meant he could have a drink. Reaching out, he snagged the drink O’Neill had presented him with. A careful sip confirmed that he was drinking an old, smooth Macallan.
“I like your choice in whisky, General,” Tony murmured. He sat back and looked at O’Neill. “What do you want from me?”
“What I want is the investigator who can look at a situation and figure out what happened and who did it. I want the guy who can take disparate pieces of evidence and find the links.” O’Neill put his drink down. “I want someone who doesn’t take himself so seriously that he’s ineffectual. I want the guy who made a difference for nine years at NCIS and has the ability to teach your skills.”
“Not everyone works like I do,” Tony admonished. “And if you want me to teach undercover skills, I can try, but teaching someone to be an investigator is both a skill and an art. I can teach the skill. The art? That’s innate.”
“Oh, I get that,” O’Neill confirmed. “So, can I offer you a trip to Colorado? It would get you out of town for a week, let things quiet down a bit.”
“Let more people look over my resume and start trying to reach me,” Tony countered.
“Well, yes, I’m certain that you are going to be getting a great deal of attention,” O’Neill said.
“Fine.” Tony took a drink of his whisky. The smoke and fire from the alcohol was lovely and he sighed softly. “Bring out the NDA. Because I know you aren’t taking me down the rabbit hole without one.”
“True,” O’Neill admitted. He waved a colonel over.
When the NDA was placed in front of him, Tony raised one eyebrow. He had signed a number of the documents over the years, and the thicker the document, the deeper the secret. O’Neill’s was more than an inch thick. He pushed the whisky away and flipped the front page open. “I want a pen and paper too.”
“Davis?” O’Neill directed.
“Got it, sir,” the colonel agreed. He reached into his briefcase and pulled out the requested items. “Here you are.”
“Awful sure of yourself there, General,” Tony said as he grabbed the requested items.
“You like mysteries,” O’Neill reminded him. “And this is one big mystery that you’ve been ignoring for years.”
“You’re too observant for my peace of mind,” Tony said before he started reading.
More than an hour later, he signed his last signature on the document. “You lot are insane,” he observed as he picked his whisky up and took a sip. “And I’ve seen the edges of this too many times for comfort.”
“I know what’s in there,” O’Neill said as he looked up from his Kindle. “What have you deduced?”
Tony tapped his fingers on the tabletop and shook his head. “I signed that damn thing. I’m not talking until you get me on a cleared plane to Colorado.”
“Good choice,” O’Neill confirmed. “Meet me at the airport at 0800. And pack a bag.”
“Which base? And for how long?” Tony asked.
O’Neill flapped a hand towards the door. “Andrews and for a week.”
“Fine.” Tony pushed the NDA over and finished the last of his drink. “I have questions. So many questions.”
“And when we get in the air, I promise to answer them,” O’Neill said. He slid out of the booth and tugged his uniform into place before he picked up the pad Tony had been writing on. “I’ll take this. See you then.”
Tony watched the man walk out of the bar and wasn’t surprised when three other men walked out with him. No general of O’Neill’s rank went without guards, and if what he suspected was true, O’Neill was one of the most important people in town.
Walking out of the bar, he sighed as he noticed the addition to his car. “I assume you are here to take me home?”
The major waiting against his car nodded. “The general sends his compliments and a reminder that driving while an arm down is harder than it looks. He’s requested I drive you home, sir.”
“I’m sure,” Tony said dryly. “Okay, let’s get going.”
The trip to his condo was smooth and easy. He had to say, O’Neill had chosen a good driver for someone with a bum wing. Once they pulled into place and parked, he turned to look at the major. “Thank you for a smooth drive, Major. You have a better night.”
“I’ll be here to pick you up at 0700, sir. General O’Neill was insistent.”
Tony gave the man a sharp look and then nodded. “Fine.”
He didn’t want to think about what driving would be like at seven a.m. in Washington while driving with a broken arm. He got out and stared at the car that had been shadowing them. In the driver’s seat was another Air Force officer who was obviously waiting on his driver. Tony’s keys were handed over then the driver headed for the car without a backwards glance.
Tony headed up to his condo and sighed as he pushed his door open. His condo was his refuge from the insanity of his life and it reflected it. Creams, pale blues and pops of color, the whole place was designed to soothe his mind after hours of wading in the worst shit humanity had to offer. Locking up was automatic and he dropped his keys in the basket he had by the door. His new, non-NCIS phone stayed in his pocket. He would deal with the buzzing in the morning.
If he was going to be gone, he needed someone to look after his fish. And he had just the person. Pulling out his phone, he thumbed through it until he found who he wanted. Hovering his thumb over the button, he hesitated. If he called, he opened himself up to being contacted by everyone, and that wasn’t going to fly.
A quick pit-stop in the kitchen yielded a paper bag, careful juggling got the bowl up and he snagged his keys on the way out. Knocking carefully on the door of his nearest neighbor with kids, he shrugged. He wasn’t that attached to the fish.
“Tony! You look like hell, man,” Patrick, his neighbor, said as he pulled the door open.
“Yeah, I’m sure I do. Look, I need to be out of town for a minimum of a week, and I know that Pearl has been a champion goldfish sitter for me before, so I was hoping she could take care of Kate for me,” Tony asked.
“Sure, man, she’ll be thrilled. She’s out with my wife getting her hair done, but I can totally accept for her. Same directions as last time?” Patrick asked as he took the bowl and bag.
“Yup. All the fishy supplies she should need are in there, and I just stocked up, so if I run long, there shouldn’t be an issue,” Tony explained.
“Dude, it’s a goldfish. A very pampered goldfish, but still. If you run that long, we’ll manage and you can pay me back,” Patrick reminded him.
“Thanks, Patrick. You’re a life saver,” Tony said with a smile. He looked at the fishbowl and nodded once. “I need to get ready for my trip, so I’ll leave you to get that settled.”
“Gotcha! Email or text me to let me know when you want to pick it up,” Patrick directed. “That way I can break it to Pearl.”
“Will do!” Tony confirmed with a small salute. He headed back to his condo with a lighter heart. Kate the fish was safe with a little girl who would spoil the damn thing more than he did. Maybe he could talk Patrick and Jessie into letting him give Kate to Pearl. One less possible tie…
Slipping back into his apartment, he wandered into the kitchen and looked in the fridge. Nothing in there, so he checked the freezer. One pasta meal in the microwave later, he leaned on the counter and thought over what he had gleaned from O’Neill’s NDA.
Project Bluebook had a reputation for being science heavy, wanting and getting heavy combat assets, and being silent on what went on inside of it. There had been a few possible leaks but, for the most part, they had been decently contained. The few times things hadn’t been kept quiet, Tony was sure the leaking party had been dealt with harshly. How harshly would be interesting to find out. But he wouldn’t put it past them to have a hole darker than Gitmo to stash their prisoners in.
In addition to that, the patterns of missing data had been fascinating. Although he wasn’t too sure about the whole “if you ascend, make sure you report in to a trusted person monthly” meant. It sounded insane, but O’Neill hadn’t struck him as bugnuts crazy—just a bit bent around the edges.
Also, the requests for blood and a full, in-depth look into his family tree hinted at there being something that was bloodline based. Whatever the Alterans were, he wasn’t sure if he wanted anything to do with them. And he certainly had no interest in pursuing a new religion. He was a confirmed atheist, thanks.
When the microwaved dinged, he carefully grabbed his dinner and headed for the dining table. He rarely used it, but the height was better for his arm and he could access his computer there. Dinner was eaten as he set up auto payments on all his bills. Something was telling him that the week he had promised O’Neill was going to run long.
The last bill was set as he scraped the bottom of his dinner. He had chosen one that was in a reused plastic takeout container, so he felt no guilt about throwing it out. Speaking of… Tony spent the rest of the evening getting his apartment ready for a long-term absence. With that done, he kicked back on the couch and grabbed his remote.
A movie and then bed. Just what he needed to relax his brain.
* * *
Seven a.m. was way too early, Tony decided. He hadn’t made the mistake of hitting the bottle before he went to bed, but his sleep had been broken with interesting dreams as his subconscious tried to put together what he was getting himself into.
His driver of the night before was exactly on time, and Tony slid into the back seat without fuss. “Do we have time to hit up a Starbucks?”
The major looked at his clock and nodded. “Yes, sir, we can. There’s one on the way to Andrews.”
Tony grunted once and laid his head on the back of the seat. He was not up to his usual level of awake, so the coffee would be a good thing. When they arrived at the base, they were ushered right in and he only raised an eyebrow at how deferential the gate guards were being. Tony was certain that O’Neill was the root cause of that.
As they pulled up to the terminal, he grabbed his go bag from the seat beside him and got ready to slide out. “Major, nice driving, and I’ll be sure to let the general know how you were,” Tony said as the car stopped.
“Thank you, sir,” the major said as he stepped out and moved to open Tony’s door. He carefully grabbed the go bag out of his hand and held it while Tony juggled his coffee and his seatbelt.
“Thanks,” Tony muttered as he finally got free of the car and looked up at the jet.
“Not a problem, sir. Do you want the bag with you? Or should I hand it on to be loaded?” the major asked.
Tony looked at the man’s nametag and confirmed the name he had read. “I’ll take it, Major Wisner. Thanks again,” he said as he held his good hand out for the bag. His bad one could handle a half full cup of coffee.
“You going to stand out there all day long?” O’Neill called from the hatch leading into the jet.
“I should, just to see you twitch.” Tony checked the time and grinned. “Besides, I still have five minutes!”
“Get up here,” O’Neill called. “We have better coffee in here than that swill you’re drinking!”
“Looks like I have my orders,” Tony said with a smile as he headed for the stairs.
Wisner chuckled once and headed for the driver’s seat.
Walking up the stairs, he raised an eyebrow at how impatient the general was being. “Are you really that desperate to have me in your organization?”
“Eh,” O’Neill muttered as he took Tony’s bag away from him and tossed it towards one of the airmen acting as porters. “Honestly? Yes. It’s not a lie to say that there are a number of us who would be thrilled to have you onboard. Will we strong-arm you into signing on? No. But tempting is totally on the table and I thought I would start with coffee.”
“Not a bad strategy,” Tony allowed as he was escorted back to a semi-private office. “Not quite Air Force One, but very nice nonetheless.”
“Air Force One comes with reporters and surveillance equipment,” O’Neill snapped back before he took a deep breath. “Sorry, we had some news break last night that pissed me off.”
“I’m not going to judge you on being passionate about your command, General,” Tony said as he took a seat in a small conversation area. He buckled in with more ease than he had expected and settled into place. “So, should we wait until we’re in the air? Or can I start asking questions now?”
“Danny! Got a new victim, I mean, audience for you!” O’Neill called as he took his own seat.
“You are far less funny than you think,” a man’s voice called from the galley. The man who walked out was a civilian, but he moved like most of the SEALs Tony had met. If he had to label the man, he would call him a heavy combat asset who was currently in a civilian role. He was carrying a coffee carafe that he placed on the table with three mugs.
“I’m hilarious,” O’Neill argued as he reached out and plucked Tony’s cup out of his hand. “You want to toss this? Or should I?”
“I’m still up, Jack. Gimme a moment to deposit this and we can get started,” the other man said as he took the to-go cup away to be trashed.
“I wasn’t finished with that,” Tony said mildly. He was slotting new things in place and had revised his opinion of “Danny” quickly. The man wasn’t military at all, but fully civilian.
“Like I said, we have better coffee,” O’Neill said as he poured coffee into one of the mugs and passed it over.
“I have better coffee,” Danny corrected as he walked in with a small tray of coffee fixings. “If I let you, you’d drink the stuff Cooper uses to clean out the coppers.”
“True,” O’Neill admitted. “Okay, Agent Tony DiNozzo, lately of NCIS, this is Dr. Daniel Jackson, the senior-most civilian at Project Bluebook.”
Tony held out one hand and carefully shook the other man’s. Gun callouses, along with some for unarmed combat, and something that felt like ones for a sword. “Civilian?”
“I told you he would doubt that,” O’Neill observed with a smile. “You don’t look like the floppy haired geek you were all those years ago.”
“Shut up, Jack,” Danny said with a smile. “I really am a civilian.”
“You don’t move like one at all,” Tony said. He looked at O’Neill and raised an eyebrow at him in question. “So, gonna explain?”
“Drink your coffee and settle in. It’s going to be a long trip. If you ask nicely, I might have something to add to that coffee to help smooth things over,” O’Neill promised.
Tony settled into his seat and took a sip of his coffee after adding some cream. It was excellent. The story they told him was insane, but there were pieces of it that fit in with the NDA he had signed. He also had the body language of the two men to analyze. They were telling the truth and nothing but the truth. It was insane.
“So, let me get this straight, Project Bluebook is actually the SGC, which stands for Stargate Command, it’s under Cheyenne Mountain, and inside of that, there’s a big ring that that generates a stable wormhole that can transport people from one side of the galaxy to another in about eight seconds? Did you lot throw Wormhole Extreme out there to lead everyone off the scent? Or was that one of the rare leaks?”
“A bit of both, actually,” O’Neill admitted. “The showrunner is one of the aliens living on Earth. He’s a decent guy, but we were really tempted to shove his ass off the planet for that shit. But it’s come in handy several times, so we let the whole mess slide.”
“Fantastic,” Tony breathed out and took a deep sip of his coffee. He had worked his way through a carafe’s worth, but that wasn’t anything on what Jackson had done. He had managed to kill at least two on his own. “And I’m not really sure I would call you a civilian, Doctor.”
“He’s as much of a civilian as you are, DiNozzo,” O’Neill reminded him. “His war just happens to be on other planets while yours is against those who would harm our military.”
“Fair point,” Tony allowed. “Okay, so I get why the SGC is here, but what do you want with me?”
“Well, first we want to see about getting that cast off your arm,” O’Neill said, waving a hand towards the plaster encasing his left forearm. “And once that’s off, I want our vampires to make sure you’re healthy. Once they do that, I figured I’d let you run loose with someone to answer any questions and see what you find.”
Tony sat back and smiled. “Whatever happened last night blew your plans out of the water, huh?”
“Yup. And I need to deal with that before I can get back to working on you,” O’Neill agreed.
* * *
Tony wandered over to the office he had been told O’Neill had taken over. Knocking on the door, he stuck his head in to check to see if the man was free. “Got a minute?”
“Sure,” O’Neill confirmed. He dropped the files he was reading in a drawer and closed it up. “So, what can I do for you?”
“You weren’t kidding about them fixing my arm,” Tony started. He waved his cast-free left arm around. It felt weird not to have the weight of the plaster on that limb. “And your doctor was horrified that I had been exposed to pneumonic plague. She’s taken blood for testing since you lot occasionally run into the regular version off-world and she’s hoping no one comes back with my version any time soon.”
“I’m hoping no one comes back with that,” O’Neill said. He looked vaguely grossed out at the thought. “And yeah, we’ve run into a few places with all the diseases, so before anyone goes through the gate, they get vaccinated against everything we can think of. So far, we’ve been lucky, but humanity has a lot of nasty bugs that think we’re awesome hosts.”
“True,” Tony said before he leaned back in his chair. “I’m going to be honest here.”
“Well that’s a good thing,” O’Neill said as he ran a hand over his hair. “But why does that sound like you’re hesitating?”
“Because I am. I’ve got a lot of offers that have been coming in,” Tony started. “I took the first one that came my way after Baltimore, and I need to make sure that I don’t grab onto the first offer I get and not look at what else is out there. I’ve come too close to losing me not to make sure that I’m doing the best that I can for myself.”
“Okay, I can get that,” O’Neill said after several moments of silence. “I didn’t get you healed as a bribe.”
“Thank you,” Tony said. That had been a minor worry in the back of his head. “I’m willing to stay my week, take a look at everything you have to offer, and maybe poke my nose into all the squeaky places for any rats. I figure it’s the least I can do as a thank you.”
“Sounds good,” O’Neill admitted. “I’ll be here for that week and beyond. It looks like we’ll be needing a new general in charge of the SGC. Our last one is going to have to be medically retired due to injuries.”
“I hope he recovers,” Tony offered. He was sure it had to be bad if the SGC was retiring the man. They had managed to get his arm healed in about an hour.
“He’ll recover as much as he can,” O’Neill told him. There was an air of finality around that pronouncement that made Tony raise an eyebrow in question.
“Your people pulled off a miracle with my arm. And from what the lady who did it was muttering, she wants a crack at my lungs too. I’m shocked that there’s anything you can’t do,” he said.
“In this case, it’s not can, it’s will,” O’Neill admitted. “There are somethings that I just don’t tolerate, and Landry was aware before he took over the hot seat of what was and wasn’t allowed. The President agreed and that’s that.”
“Is that a decision that can be backed up in court if it ever gets that far?” Tony pressed. There was a small part of him that was amazed at his pushiness, but he just could not let torture slide. It wasn’t in him.
“Bribery and borderline treason? Yeah, I’m sure that allowing him to live, but be disabled will be a better choice than having him shot,” O’Neill snapped. “He’s got a one-way trip to a lovely retirement planet where there’s all the comforts of home, just no money, no way off, and his disability won’t keep him from living out the rest of his life where I can’t kill him for being a dumb ass.”
And that put another spin on the whole mess. Tony thought back on what he had observed through the day and nodded. The majority of the base seemed satisfied with whatever was going down, so he was certain they knew what was up. And living was always better than dying.
“Need help vetting the new prospects for the big chair?” he offered.
“Sure kid,” O’Neill said with a sigh. “What do you know of Lieutenant General Balock?”
“Air Force?” Tony guessed. At O’Neill’s nod, he racked his memory. “He’s rarely been in combat. Last I heard anything about him, he was running Anderson Air Force Base in Guam and was doing a good enough job at that. He’s not really an officer who’s stood out to attract my attention. After all, I handled Navy and Marine crimes, sir.”
“Point,” O’Neill grunted. He reached into his desk drawer and pulled out the files he had been reading. The top one went back in with a note slapped on it. “What about Randolph?”
“Marine Major General whose been on front line postings in the Middle East for the last six years. He’s well thought of by his troops and has a good safety record, both stateside and in combat. While he’s lost some men, more have made it home, even if some of them have been wounded. There is a very low instance of sexual assaults on his bases, and he’s been hell on wheels making sure of that,” Tony stared into the distance as he thought about the general. “He’s flexible and willing to work with both our own services and our allies. The last time I needed to do anything with his troops, they were all cooperative and no one seemed to have a need to hide. It was refreshing.”
O’Neill made a note on a post-it and slapped it on the new folder. “So he’s not an asshole?”
“Nope, not an asshole. Well, not to our own troops,” Tony allowed. “He’s fiery death to those who attack his people.”
“Sounds like a man after my own heart,” O’Neill said before moving the file to a new spot. “How about Johnson?”
They spent more than an hour going over all the prospects for the spot of the new general at the SGC and Tony had no idea what criteria O’Neill was using, but he rarely kept anyone that Tony had an issue with. The one general that neither of them could agree on got a post-it with a big question mark on it. Tony wasn’t sure, but he got the feeling that that man was going to be getting researched down to the kind of lube he liked when he jacked off.
That set their interactions for the rest of the week Tony was at the SGC. He wandered the place at will and discussed what he observed with O’Neill. He managed to quash two smuggling ring and one nascent drug ring just by being in the right place at the right time. In between those wonderful adventures, he was hosted by the medical department for some in-depth looks at his lungs, his blood, and his brain.
If Tony didn’t know that they were trying to make sure that no one else had to go through what he had to, he would have been creeped the fuck out. As it was, he made certain to buy Vala a very nice leather jacket with some interesting pockets. She had repaid the thank you by fixing his knees.
“So, the week’s over,” Tony said as he settled into place in front of O’Neill’s temporary desk. “I’ve still got some people asking for me to give them a try, but I’m totally fascinated by what you have going on here.”
“Well that’s something at least,” O’Neill admitted. “I figure if we can’t get you full time, we’ll talk to whomever you take the job with about a timeshare.”
Snorting softly in laughter, Tony shook his head. “Something to think about, then.”
“Yup,” O’Neill agreed. He got up and walked around the desk with his hand outstretched. “It’s been a pleasure working with you, Agent DiNozzo. I wish you luck in figuring out your next steps.”
“Thank you, sir. It’s been a fascinating week. Call me if you need me,” Tony said after shaking the man’s hand. “And I do promise that if I find myself ascending, I will come back to visit.”
“You better!” O’Neill said with a laugh. “And you’re one of us, even if for a week. We’ll expect you back sometime.”
Tony shook his head once. He really hadn’t expected this when he had put out his resume.